Non-governmental sector in Azerbaijan

Q&A with Dr. Israil Iskenderov, executive director of the Humanitarian and Social Support Center “UMID” and Rana Yuzbashova, program officer of the Center of Legal and Economic Education (CLEE). We are very thankful that you have agreed on an interview. What do you think about the level of development of the non-governmental sector in Azerbaijan?I.I – Recently I attended a large-scale meeting of non-governmental organizations organized by BP and the Open Society Azerbaijan, regarding the BTC monitoring project. To my delight,  I saw many good, well-developed organizations there. About 90 organizations, including the regional ones attended the meeting. As for the total number of non-governmental organizations, I think over 2 000 organizations are registered in Azerbaijan, however only 70-75 of them are successful.Generally speaking, our development has a great potential. We have good international and regional contacts. It is almost an unwritten law, that our cooperation with Armenian NGOs is less welcomed. However, there are some organizations which manage to implement joint programs with the Armenian side.In which spheres does the non-governmental sector work basically?I.I. – There are many NGOs in Azerbaijan, which work over social issues, ecological and environmental protection, community development and of course, human rights. There are very strong NGOs, which work over human rights, such as the Society for Humanitarian Researches, the Center for Legal and Economic Education, the Society for Protection of Labor Rights, etc. They are rather efficient NGOs with their offices and communications, instead of those based on a principle of friendship or relationship.By the way, Avaz Hasanov, the head of the Center for Humanitarian Researches opened a new site ( ), a presentation of which was held recently. It is a very interesting undertaking, devoted for national non-governmental organizations, unlike other projects (for example Now, we think over making this site independent from donors, through introducing membership fees.What are the tendencies, approaches towards the sector development?I.I. – Presently Azerbaijan faces a great deal of state problems, which can be solved with the support of the non-governmental sector. For example, we have a good legislation in the field of human rights, however, we often face a problem in lack of implementation mechanisms. At the same time, we have many social problems. We should solve these problems together with the government. We should try to change something step by step, and I think that if someone plans to change the authorities here, he will fail. We will change nothing by shouting loudly. Persons should understand that they are a part of the state and they should contribute to settlement of problems.What are the key problems the sector faces?R.Y. Problems are quite enough. Generally speaking, even at this level of development, we could have done much more in case of the state willingness for cooperation with the sector.  I do not mean the support, I mean cooperation in order to feel that what we are doing is necessary and interesting for the government.A great deal of problems exist inside the organizations as well. For example, the sector has an experienced and highly skilled human resource. However, these persons perceive their service in the non-governmental sector as the ground for transition to the commercial organizations. Accordingly, it often occurs that the non-governmental organizations grow up highly skilled staff and then are forced to give them up to other agencies.      Lack of strategic planning is one more vulnerable issue. The organizations should launch its elaboration – this means that they should ask themselves: what achievements have we made, what do we need to achieve and what should we do for it.  Of course, it is better if it occurs at a state level and completely for the sector. However, currently if it occurs for a separate  organization, it will be enough.I.I. I would like to add, that very often the organization is identified with its leader, for example we used to say, Imran Veliyev’s non-governmental organization, or Israil Iskenderov’s non-governmental organization. This is not correct as there exist non-governmental organizations CLEE, UMID, etc.What about “external” problems sector faces today?   I.I. Out of external factors, the issue of registration is worth noting. We face great difficulties in this issue. However, we can easily settle this process and lead it like in Georgia and other countries.R.Y. At the same time, the taxation issue is rather important, since we pay utterly high taxes. Some time ago the authorities introduced a 27% provision from the salary fund of grant. Thus, along with other taxes, we pay up to 41-42% from our salaries. Only the U.S. grants are not leviable.By imposing such taxes the government aims to control the non-governmental organizations. The authorities say, “implement those projects, which are recommended by the government and you will have no problems.” But we do not want to work this way.I.I  It should be noted that today the government is more loyal towards the non-governmental organizations than it was two or three years ago. It would be better if the government had a special fund meant for the non-governmental organizations, moreover, when we already have such experience. For example, AZERCELL has particular programs, as well as the Ministry for Youth and Tourism, which works with the youth organizations. We support that the government finances a part of our activities, such as social work, researches, etc and be sure that the government will receive the perfectly done work in return.  But, may it increase the quality of dependence of the non-governmental organizations on the government? I.I. Generally, the concept such as independent of the non-governmental sector does not exist. A non-governmental organization always was and will be dependent on someone. In this context I’d better work with my government, than with any foreign donor, which has his own interests.What do you think is necessary to be done to improve the situation? I.I. The development of the non-governmental sector is an important issue. Unfortunately, how it occurs now –  a project related to sector development is written somewhere in Washington or London, but it is not discussed at a local level with the non-governmental organization to reveal its gaps.R.Y. The non-governmental organizations are not developed equally. The situation in the regions is a bit different compared with Baku. We are more free here, in the  capital, and experience less  pressure from the executive authorities.I.I. In fine, I think that much depends on the society itself. If generally particular developments take place in Baku, the non-governmental sector here develops as well. However, in the regions the level of development is extremely low and accordingly the non-governmental sector is not strong there. However, one thing is quite clear – we should continue to work, to spare no efforts and keep hope alive.

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